Editor’s Note: Resident reviewer and animation enthusiast Marie B returns to examine Pixar’s latest effort and she discovers one of the year’s best films…
As movie buffs, we watch a wide variety of films. Most we can easily categorise: romance, comedy, adventure, horror, and so on. We can even summarise what we think or feel about the film, “it was exciting”, or “it lacked action” or “it’s perfect for a date night.” In some cases, if the film is big enough, obvious enough and has enough critical acclaim or buzz, we can confidently proclaim that it’s an excellent film (think “Inception” or “Gravity”).
Then there’s “Inside Out”. A beautiful, moving and intelligent movie disguised in colourful animation and a child-friendly narrative. Reviewing this film is probably the hardest assignment I’ve had so far because it is so subtle in its brilliance that you can almost overlook it. But as a long-time Pixar fan, I feel a sense of obligation not just to honour what they’ve done, but help others appreciate it as well.
At the most basic level of filmmaking and storytelling, it’s an easy movie to praise. Built around the story of Riley, an 11-year-old girl dealing with her family’s move from Minnesota to San Francisco, it actually explores the world of her emotions, beautifully personified in 5 characters: Joy (Amy Poehler) Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). The premise may sound simple, but don’t let that fool you. Within its candy-coloured walls, “Inside Out” deals with weighty themes of letting go, growing up and accepting our emotions.
The most obvious praise is that it is beautifully envisioned and animated. The colours are vivid, vibrant and pop onscreen, making for a delightful visual palette. But what truly impresses is the creative expression of the world of the inner mind. Ask most people and they’ll paint you a picture of neurons firing synapses. But what director Pete Docter and his co-creators have done is to take these complex concepts, distill their essence and translate it into something entertaining, and more importantly, easily accessible.
From the look of Headquarters, where the emotions hold office, to how memories are forgotten, to how dreams come to be, a viewer can grasp how this world works. Even for younger children, who may not always be able to follow the explanatory dialogue, the visuals are enough to carry the message. My personal favorite is how they brought to life the idea that memories help form our personalities. I won’t say more lest I spoil it for you. But when you see it, think about how abstract the concept really is, yet how simply they’ve managed to portray it.
Then there are the characters. Always a Pixar strong suit, this movie is no exception. Although the story is centred around the journey of Joy and Sadness, the other three emotions are all equally memorable. While their design falls into their expected archetypes (Anger is red, Sadness is blue), they never feel one-dimensional. They are not automated emotions, but ones that are motivated by the desire to do what is right for Riley. They think and act in ways they believe is for her own good. This is again an example of brilliance hidden in simplicity and perhaps the film’s greatest message: that all emotions are useful. In a world where pursuing one’s happiness has become the be all and end all, the idea that even the “negative” emotions can bring us any good is a remarkably profound moral. And one that is incredibly crucial.
This realisation is as powerful to me, the viewer, as it as to Joy as she learns it for herself. Not because I am discovering it for the first time but because it is a lesson that is easily forgotten. As we age, we gloss over the more painful parts of our lives. And that’s why this scene is so incredibly touching. It made me cry. Not just for Joy and for Riley, but in a way for myself. It was a moving reminder that no matter what the memory may have been or whatever I may have to face in the future, good comes out of it.
Although younger audience members may not react to it as I do, I believe that this film offers them something equally powerful. Through Riley’s emotions, they get a non-threatening, non-preachy way of grasping the growing complexity of their own feelings and the assurance that it’s ok to feel a certain way. If nothing else, this film articulates what they are going through in a way they can understand and hopefully express, leading to better dialogue within families.
But the most memorable character, the one who made me feel the most, is not even an emotion. Bing Bong, Riley’s imaginary friend, long lost in that part of the mind known as Long Term Memory easily steals my heart. It is not so much who he is that makes him remarkable, nor is his fate what makes him noteworthy. In a movie filled with poignant moments, I wept most at his. In fact, even much later, just recalling him made me teary-eyed. He reminded me of the truth of impermanence and inescapability of change, and there is something bittersweet and deeply humbling about that.
If I were completely honest, when I first walked out of the theater I didn’t even consider this film as part of my top 5 Pixar films. I enjoyed it and I thought it was terrific work, but it was only later, after reflection and a better understanding of how it made me feel, that it dawned on me how special it is. That, to me, sums up the worth of this film. Long after it has ended its run in cinemas, when people can only view it on home video, “Inside Out” will be a movie that will keep on giving. It’s the kind of film that only grows more special over time and the kind that gives you a different insight when you are viewing it at a different stage in your life.
I’m already looking forward to seeing it again.